The Peoples Democratic Party, on Wednesday, said the banning of some media houses from covering activities in the Presidential Villa was unjustified.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, had in a statement on Tuesday restricted the coverage of activities in the Villa to 13 media organisations excluding AIT, Arise TV, STV, Ben TV and others.
Also barred were reporters from The PUNCH, ThisDay, Tribune, The Guardian, Vanguard, Daily Trust and other major newspapers, while few of them were allowed to send in their photographers.
In the statement, Adesina attributed the decision to part of the measures being taken to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
He explained that Channels TV, NTA, TVC, News Agency of Nigeria, Sun Newspaper, Voice of Nigeria, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, and photographers of ThisDay, The Guardian, Leadership, Vanguard and Daily Trust, would remain to cover the Villa for a yet-to-be specified period.
However, in a statement issued, on Tuesday, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, dismissed Adesina’s explanations.
He described the restrictions placed on media houses as a most heinous form of official victimisation executed in bad faith.
According to him, this decision by the Buhari regime is highly detestable, undemocratic and totally against the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act, as well as the tenets and guiding principles of rule of law.
Ologbondiyan said, “This is therefore not the time for unnecessary pettiness, victimisation and barring of media houses, a development which has sparked suspicion in the public space as being designed to conceal certain facts from the public.
“It is indeed instructive for the Buhari Presidency to note that our nation is in dire need of hope and direction contained in timely information, especially from the government.”
He warned that clamping down on the media, which is a critical stakeholder in the effort to defeat COVID-19, was completely at variance with national interest.
Ologbondiyan further said, “What our nation needs now is for all hands on deck, with those in power shelving their pettiness, parochial interests, pointless and unreasonable ego as we collectively seek for solutions.
“The PDP, therefore, charges the Presidency to, immediately and without any further delay, lift the ban on the affected media houses and allow them to discharge their responsibility to the Nigerian people, in line with the provisions of the law and their professional requirements.
“Moreover, the PDP frowns on the Federal Government cancelling its Tuesday media briefing on the COVID-19, thereby denying Nigerians very vital information in the process. The party urges the Federal Government to exert itself and seek more concerted efforts in the fight against the pandemic.”
No justification for barring free press – CSOs
Also, the National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, while speaking on the development said, “The restriction infringes on the constitutional obligations of the State to the people of Nigeria in line with section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
He challenged the regime to come clean because there is now a clear indication that it was uncomfortable with public scrutiny of its activities by the free press in Nigeria.
Onwubiko also said, “HURIWA hereby totally condemns this outrageous and grave threat to the constitutionally guaranteed media rights of citizens who are the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria and have donated the legitimacy to government officials to exercise responsibility within the legal framework. We think the current administration is rapidly becoming a tyranny and totalitarian regime.”
Speaking in a similar vein, the Executive Director, Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Auwual Musa, said, “When we said there was a systematic attack on free speech and the freedom of the press supporters of this regime call us lairs and wailers now it is clear for all to see.
“This restriction which is clearly targeted at independent minded media organisations is further proof of this regime growing intolerance of alternative views. It is such a shame.”